The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

The non-sledgehammer approach

After a year of deliberation, a decision has almost been reached on whether to introduce a register for NHS directors. And it seems the currently favoured option is a voluntary — rather than mandatory — register.

Tom Kark QC’s review of the fit and proper person test, published last year, recommended the creation of a new compulsory central database for all directors’ qualifications and history, and a regulator which could blacklist them.

However, the working group set up to consider the NHS’ response to the Kark review is keen to avoid the bureaucratic demand and complexity of creating a new regulator for senior managers, with one member describing it as like using “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

It is clear this has been a complex discussion, with some sources noting the “sensitivities” involved; some working group members are keener on more stringent regulation than others.

Sources report the group is in agreement for the need to strengthen the way the current system works, and a voluntary register seems to be emerging as a quick and effective solution. 

Of course this is by no means the end of this lengthy process and perennial debate. Once the group has settled on its recommendations, they will need the nod from “People Plan” supremo Baroness Dido Harding; and for ministers to bite, too. And who is to say whether they will favour the “sledgehammer”?

Here’s one we stockpiled earlier

Hospitals treating coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China, are running out of protective gear, and sadly are likely to need a lot more. Workers are avoiding meals and toilet breaks to preserve supplies as hospitals appeal for public donations, according to state outlet People’s Daily

In response, the Chinese government has cracked down on exports of goods including face masks and gowns. And when the world’s largest exporter stops shipping goods, you can bet it will squeeze the global supply chain. One NHS supplier told HSJ the global demand for respirators is already exceeding supply. Several have restricted orders to existing customers. 

The Department of Health and Social Care says it has stockpiles in place to keep supplies coming as China plugs its pipelines. Luckily for the DHSC, suppliers have been hoarding goods in case of a no-deal Brexit for some time. On Wednesday evening, government asked them to hold onto those handy stockpiles.

Trusts — which, in contrast to suppliers, have been asked not to stockpile goods or make unusually large orders — have also been promised “uncapped” capital funding to build isolation units and other facilities needed to respond to the outbreak.  

So far, only a handful of patients have been diagnosed in the UK, but, with temporary closures of GP surgeries already taking place, it’s clear the NHS will need to be prepared to act quickly.